Question: "How should Christian parents handle the death of a child?"
Answer: As parents, we cannot imagine a more traumatic experience than the death of a child. All parents naturally expect their children to outlive them. Such a loss is an extraordinary, out-of-order event that brings with it an overwhelming sense of pain and lingering grief. It is a life-altering experience that presents unique challenges to parents as they seek to rebuild their lives without their child.
It would be presumptuous for anyone to tell parents how to handle the death of a child. However, we do know that those who yield their lives to God are more apt to recover from such a loss with a greater sense of normalcy than those without a genuine and positive faith in our Creator. With this being true, how do Christian parents handle the death of a child? Does the Bible address the subject, and if so, in what way?
First, we should note that each person handles grief differently. Emotions vary widely in their intensity. These emotions are normal and natural. Second, no parent ever “gets over” or “moves on” from the death of a child. It’s not like an illness from which we recover. Most counselors liken it to a life-changing physical injury. However, we should also know that, though we may always feel the loss, its intensity does diminish with time.
It is the Christian’s faith in a loving and ever-faithful God that enables us to endure and recover from the death of a child, sometimes in ways that others find remarkable. Such was the case of David in the loss of his child who died seven days after birth (2 Samuel 12:18–19). There are several valuable lessons we can learn from this passage of Scripture that can help grieving parents to face the future with hope.
One is that David prayed fervently for his child’s life (2 Samuel 12:16). This should be true for all parents at all times, and not just when times are difficult. Parents should always pray for their children, asking God to watch over and protect them. Likewise, parents should pray that God provides godly wisdom and guidance so that their children grow in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Judges 13:12; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4).
Another lesson we learn from David is in his reaction to his child’s death. Upon learning that the infant had died, there was an acceptance signified by his actions when he “arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate” (2 Samuel 12:20). What is surprising about this passage is that David “went into the house of the Lord and worshiped.” In other words, David not only accepted the death of his child, but he gave it all over to God in worship. The ability to worship and honor God in a time of trial or crisis is a powerful demonstration of our spiritual confidence in our God. Doing so enables us to accept the reality of our loss. And this is how God frees us to go on living. What David models for us in this story is learning to turn loose what we cannot change.
The next lesson is the most revealing. It is confidence in the knowledge that children who die before they reach the age of accountability go to heaven. David’s response to those questioning his reaction to the death of his child has always been a great source of comfort to believing parents who have lost infants and young children. “But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). David was fully confident that he would meet his son in heaven. This passage is a powerful indication that babies and young children who pass from this world will go to heaven.
Grieving the death of a child is a heartrending journey. There are no hard and fast rules or guidelines to teach us how to handle our mourning. However, counselors and those who have experienced the loss of a child have provided some helpful advice:
• Recognize that you are not alone. You have God. You have your brothers and sisters in Christ. You have close friends and family. Lean on them. They are there to help you.
• Don’t put time limits on your recovery. Don’t expect a day to pass without thinking about your child, nor should you want to.
• Talk about your child. It’s important that you share the story of your child with others.
• Take care of yourself and your other children. They, too, are suffering. They grieve the loss of a sibling and have the additional discomfort of seeing their parents in grief.
• Try not to make any major decisions at least for the first year.
• Expect that getting through the many “firsts” following the death of a young child—first birthday, first Christmas, etc.—will be painful.
And lastly, Christians who have experienced the death of a child have the grand and faithful promise of God’s Word: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
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